Is a Career as a Veterinary Assistant Right for Me?
Choosing a career working with animals means you are compassionate and caring and that you want to do work that is meaningful. Although you may have these characteristics, a job working as a veterinary assistant is not necessarily the right one. Before you take the next step to enroll in a post-secondary program, learn more about this career and if it sounds like your dream job.
What a Veterinary Assistant Does
A vet assistant works with and assists veterinarians and veterinary technicians, or vet techs. Some may work directly under and mostly with vet techs, while others are more often involved with the veterinarian. This distinction often depends on the size of the practice. The daily duties of a veterinary assistant depend on the state in which you are working and the employer or veterinarian. Some of the typical responsibilities are:
- Answering the phone and acting as a receptionist
- Making appointments
- Maintaining records
- Feeding and cleaning up after animals
- Exercising animals
- Bathing and lightly grooming animals
- Assisting veterinarians and vet techs during exams and procedures
- Sanitizing equipment and preparing for procedures
- Filling prescriptions and administering certain medications
Pros vs. Cons
There are a lot of great things about working as a veterinary assistant, but there are also some downsides. Before choosing to start in any career it is important to look at and to weigh the pros and the cons.
- Working with animals. Many people get into this career because they love animals, and this is a job that will allow you to handle and work with them nearly every day. This is a pro for most people, but also consider that working with animals can be messy and even dangerous. There will also be sad days in the office when an animal has to be euthanized or when a beloved pet is given a terrible diagnosis.
- Working with people. If you are choosing this career because you want to work with animals, don’t forget that the real clients in a veterinary office are people. As a vet assistant, you will have a lot of face time with pet owners, helping them schedule appointments, explaining what the veterinarian has said, assisting with medications and often just listening.
- Educational and training requirements. Before becoming a vet assistant, you may want to enroll in and complete a training program. Many community and career colleges offer diploma or certificate programs that take less than a year to complete. There is no licensing or education requirement to work in this field, but veterinarians may choose to hire only those who have had this basic education. You can also choose to become an Approved Veterinary Assistant, a national certification that you can achieve by passing an exam.
- Salary. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the May 2017 median income for veterinary assistants was $26,140. The top 10 percent earned over $38,300. For the little training required, this salary may seem reasonable, but it is lower than that of a veterinary technician, which can be a big con.
- Work environment and hours. Most vet assistants work in veterinary offices and private practices. Some work in research laboratories or for universities. Hours are often full time but may vary and include evenings and weekends. The work is often physical and can be risky when animals that may bite, scratch or transmit disease are handled. There is a higher rate of illness and injury in this career as compared to the average across all jobs.
Career Advancements as a Vet Assistant
One major pro of working as a veterinary assistant is that it can lead to a better job. Having training and experience working with animals is a good stepping stone to becoming a veterinary technician and even a great start to eventually going to veterinary school. Each new step will require more education, but having this work experience under your belt will make the transitions easier.
There are many pros and cons of veterinary assisting as a career. If you are looking for a job working with animals that doesn’t require licensing or a lot of training, this is a great place to start. If you need to earn more or are afraid of getting hurt, it may not be right for you. Weigh all these factors and, if you’re ready, check out post-secondary programs that will prepare you to become an excellent veterinary assistant.